Over the past week, Venezuela has witnessed an escalation in violence unseen since the tragic events of Feb. 2014, when right-wing groups took to the streets in the deadly “guarimbas” to demand “the exit” of President Nicolas Maduro. Today, the situation in Venezuela and Latin America is different and the Organization of American States, OAS, has gained new, right-wing allies that seek to crush any hope of a revolutionary process across the continent.
Deadly Guarimbas in Venezuela
OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro has used all the tools at his disposal to demonize and undermine the allegedly “authoritarian” government of Nicolas Maduro. Last year, he accused Maduro of becoming a "petty dictator" as he lambasted what he terms an “undemocratic” Venezuela. And what does one do with dictators? According to Almagro’s logic, one option is to oust them through international “humanitarian” intervention. A quick solution, but one that’s rarely so easy.
Just this week, Williams Davila, an opposition representative from the state of Merida, told international news agency EFE that their intention is not to get Venezuela suspended from the OAS. Rather, it is to force the government into an election. As the past week has shown, the opposition — which ironically accuses the government of “breaking the constitutional order” — is willing to use extra-judicial means to achieve this, including street violence.
Violent groups clash with security forces in Caracas on April 4, 2017.
Davila also admitted that between 2005 and 2015, the Venezuelan opposition failed to sit down in an OAS meeting as then Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza refused to receive them. But Almagro is a different animal altogether and his clear, political agenda has seen him meet with multiple opposition leaders.
In any case, the escalation of political violence in Venezuela combined with international pressure of this kind could result in a dangerous outcome, not just for Venezuela but for the region. Just last night, I was talking to a friend who recalled how the police entered impoverished neighborhoods during the Caracazo of 1989, firing live rounds on civilians in one of Venezuela’s bloodiest chapters. While the conditions today are very different, I replied that today the opposition leadership is looking for its own dead, its own martyr it can rally around.
Between 8 and 9 pm local time last night, isolated riots continued in different parts of Caracas, including one near a military zone of El Valle. Clashes had broken out between security forces and protesters in Carrizal, a middle-class neighborhood between Caracas and Los Teques. The sound of pots and pans banging could be heard from nearby buildings, which was recorded on social media.
It was during this time that Jairo Johan Ortiz Bustamante, a 19-year-old student from Universidad Bicenteraria de Aragua, was shot and killed by a Venezuelan police officer, reportedly close to his home in Carrizal, part of the Los Salias Municipality of Miranda State.
Immediately after the shooting, the opposition mediascape went into overdrive. “This is a bloody dictatorship,” said opposition leader and one of the chief architects of the deadly 2014 protests, Maria Corina Machado, capitalizing on the tragic death of Ortiz. Henrique Capriles has even gone as far as accusing the Ministry of the Interior and National Guard of ordering the killing, despite the Venezuelan Ombudsman publicly condemning the killing and taking immediate action against the perpetrator.
Despite the rhetoric of Capriles, on Thursday we saw him being carried out of a violent demonstration at Fajardo Highway — the effects of the tear gas were apparently too much for him. Likewise, another opposition leader, Freddy Guevara, called on people to march on the National Attorney’s office in the heart of the city, where thousands of pro-government supporters were gathered — 2002 all over again. He was nowhere to be seen by 4 p.m.
What’s clear is the opposition leadership keeps stirring up young people’s sentiment with the promise of “change” in order to serve their own agenda of ousting Maduro and reinstating a regime that is servile to U.S. interests, cue Mauricio Macri’s Argentina and Michel Temer’s Brazil.
“This crisis is reaching a breaking point,” Almagro has said, while in Caracas we try to reach the workplace or home as opposition representatives shout and scream on the streets, in our Metro stations, calling on people to rebel against this “repressive regime.”
On Saturday, April 8, the opposition has called for yet another demonstration. The plan is to restrict the mobility of people by strategically placing picket lines on main roads across the country. I cannot see the “peaceful” side of any of this. It is 2014 all over again.